The Moon Rock - Arthur J. Rees - ebook

The Moon Rock ebook

Arthur J. Rees

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Arthur J. Rees is a past master in the art of fashioning ingenious mystery-detective yarns and „The Moon Rock” is one of his best. The author’s many admirers will find keen enjoyment and many puzzling moments in their endeavors to solve the mystery. Robert Turold had spent his life trying to prove his claim to an ancient title. Yet, when it seems he is about to finally succeed, his body is found in a remote cottage on the Cornish coast, an apparent suicide. Detective Brannert of Scotland Yard, however, suspects murder. His young daughter, his long-time servant, his brother and nephew – all have something to gain by his death. This fast-paced detective story unfolds through the tangles of complicated family ties and secrets, suspicious servants, and a mysterious Cornish legend.

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Liczba stron: 534

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER XXXII

CHAPTER XXXIII

CHAPTER XXXIV

Chapter I

The voice of the clergyman intoned the last sad hope of humanity, the final prayer was said, and the mourners turned away, leaving Mrs. Turold to take her rest in a bleak Cornish churchyard among strangers, far from the place of her birth and kindred.

The fact would not have troubled her if she had known. In life she had been a nonentity; in death she was not less. At least she could now mix with her betters without reproach, free (in the all-enveloping silence) from the fear of betraying her humble origin. Debrett’s Peerage was unimportant in the grave; breaches of social etiquette passed unnoticed there; the wagging of malicious tongues was stopped by dust.

Her husband lingered at the grave-side after the others had departed. As he stood staring into the open grave, regardless of a lurking grave-digger waiting to fill it, he looked like a man whose part in the drama of life was Care. There was no hint of happiness in his long narrow face, dull sunken eyes, and bloodless compressed lips. His expression was not that of one unable to tear himself away from the last glimpse of a loved wife fallen from his arms into the clutch of Death. It was the gaze of one immersed in anxious thought.

The mourners, who had just left the churchyard, awaited him by a rude stone cross near the entrance to the church. There were six–four men, a woman, and a girl. In the road close by stood the motor-car which had brought them to the churchyard in the wake of the hearse, glistening incongruously in the grey Cornish setting of moorland and sea.

The girl stood a little apart from the others. She was the daughter of the dead woman, but her head was turned away from the churchyard, and her sorrowful glance dwelt on the distant sea. The contour of her small face was perfect as a flower or gem, and colourless except for vivid scarlet lips and dark eyes gleaming beneath delicate dark brows. She was very young–not more than twenty–but in the soft lines of her beauty there was a suggestion of character beyond her years. Her face was dreamy and wayward, and almost gipsy in type. There was something rather disconcerting in the contrast between her air of inexperienced youth and the sombre intensity of her dark eyes, which seemed mature and disillusioned, like those of an older person. The slim lines of her figure had the lissome development of a girl who spent her days out of doors.

She stood there motionless, apparently lost in meditation, indifferent to the bitter wind which was driving across the moors with insistent force.

“Put this on, Sisily.”

Sisily turned with a start. Her aunt, a large stout woman muffled in heavy furs, was standing behind her, holding a wrap in her hand.

“You’ll catch your death of cold, child, standing here in this thin dress,” the elder lady continued. “Why didn’t you wear your coat? You’d be warmer sitting in the car. It’s really very selfish of Robert, keeping us all waiting in this dreadful wind!” She shivered, and drew her furs closer. “Why doesn’t he come away? As if it could do any good!”

As she spoke the tall form of Robert Turold was seen approaching through the rank grass and mouldering tombstones with a quick stride. He emerged from the churchyard gate with a stern and moody face.

“Let us get home,” he said, and his words were more of a command than request.

He walked across the road to the car with his sister and daughter. The men by the cross followed. They were his brother, his brother’s son, his sister’s husband, and the local doctor, whose name was Ravenshaw. With a clang and a hoot the car started on the return journey. The winding cobbled street of the churchtown was soon left behind for a road which struck across the lonely moors to the sea. Through the moors and stony hills the car sped until it drew near a solitary house perched on the edge of the dark cliffs high above the tumbling waters of the yeasty sea which foamed at their base.

The car stopped by the gate where the moor road ended. The mourners alighted and entered the gate. Their approach was observed from within, for as they neared the house the front door was opened by an elderly man-servant with a brown and hawk-beaked face.

Walking rapidly ahead Robert Turold led the way into a front sitting-room lighted by a window overlooking the sea. There was an air of purpose in his movements, but an appearance of strain in his careworn face and twitching lips. He glanced at the others in a preoccupied way, but started perceptibly as his eye fell upon his daughter.

“There is no need for you to remain, Sisily,” he said in a harsh dry voice.

Sisily turned away without speaking. Her cousin Charles jumped up to open the door, and the two exchanged a glance as she went out. The young man then returned to his seat near the window. Robert Turold was speaking emphatically to Dr. Ravenshaw, answering some objection which the doctor had raised.

“... No, no, Ravenshaw–I want you to be present. You will oblige me by remaining. I will go upstairs and get the documents. I shall not keep you long. Thalassa, serve refreshments.”

He left the room quickly, as though to avoid further argument. The elderly serving-man busied himself by setting out decanters and glasses, then went out like one who considered his duty done, leaving the company to wait on themselves.

Chapter II

The group in the room sat in silence with an air of stiff expectation. The members of the family knew they were not assembled to pay respect to the memory of the woman who had just been buried. Her husband had regarded her as a drag upon him, and did not consider her removal an occasion for the display of hypocritical grief. Rather was it to be regarded as an act of timely intervention on the part of Death, who for once had not acted as marplot in human affairs.

They were there to listen to the story of the triumph of the head of the family, Robert Turold. Most families have some common source of interest and pride. It may be a famous son, a renowned ancestor, a faded heirloom, even a musical daughter. The pride of the Turold family rested on the belief that they were of noble blood–the lineal inheritors of a great English title which had fallen into abeyance hundreds of years before.

Robert Turold had not been content to boast of his nobility and die a commoner like his father and grandfather before him. His intense pride demanded more than that. As a boy he had pored over the crabbed parchments in the family deed-box which indicated but did not record the family descent, and he had vowed to devote his life to prove the descent and restore the ancient title of Turrald of Missenden to the Turolds of which he was the head.

There was not much to go upon when he commenced the labour of thirty years–merely a few old documents, a family tradition, and the similarity of name. And the Turolds were poor. Money, and a great deal of it, was needed for the search, in the first instance, of the unbroken line of descent, and for the maintenance of the title afterwards if the claim was completely established. But Robert Turold was not to be deterred by obstacles, however great. He was a man with a single idea, and such men are hard to baulk in the long run.

He left England in early manhood and remained away for some years. His family understood that he had gone to seek a fortune in the wilds of the earth. He reappeared–a saturnine silent man–as suddenly as he had gone away. In his wanderings he had gained a fortune but partly lost the use of one eye. The partial loss of an eye did not matter much in a country like England, where most people have two eyes and very little money, and therefore pay more respect to wealth than vision.

Robert Turold invested his money, and then set to work upon his great ambition with the fierce restlessness which characterized all his proceedings in life. He married shortly after his return. He soon came to the conclusion that his marriage was a great mistake–the greatest mistake of his life. His wife had borne him two girls. The first died in infancy, and some years later Sisily was born. His regrets increased with the birth of a second daughter. He wanted a son to succeed him in the title–when he gained it. Time passed, and he became enraged. His anger crushed the timid woman who shared his strange lot. His dominating temperament and moody pride were too much for her gentle soul. She became desperately afraid of him and his stern ways, of that monomania which kept them wandering through the country searching for links in a [pedigree] which had to be traced back for hundreds of years before Robert Turold could grasp his heart’s desire.

When She died in the house on the cliffs where they had come six months before, Robert Turold had accomplished the task to which his life had been devoted. Some weeks before he had summoned his brother from London to disclose his future plans. The brothers had not met for many years, but Austin was quick to obey when he learnt that a fortune and a title were at stake. The sister and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Pendleton, had reached Cornwall two days before the funeral. They were to take Sisily back to London with them. It was Robert Turold’s intention to part with his daughter and place her in his sister’s charge. For a reason he had not yet divulged, Sisily was to have no place in his brilliant future. He disliked his daughter. Her sex was a fatal bar to his regard. He had heaped so many reproaches on her mother for bringing another girl into the world that the poor woman had descended to the grave with a confused idea that she was to blame.

Sisily had a strange nature, reticent, yet tender. She had loved her mother passionately, and feared and hated her father because he had treated his wife so harshly. She had been the witness of it all–from her earliest childhood to the moment when the unhappy woman had died with her eyes fixed on her husband’s implacable face, but holding fast to her daughter’s hand, as though she wanted to carry the pressure of those loving fingers into the grave.

A clock on the mantel-piece ticked loudly. But it was the only sound which disturbed the quietness of the room. The representatives of the family eyed one another with guarded indifference. Circumstances had kept them apart for many years, and they now met almost as strangers.

Mrs. Pendleton sat on a sofa with her husband. She was a notable outline of a woman, large and massive, with a shrewd capable face and a middle-class mind. She lived, when at home, in the rarefied atmosphere of Golders Green, in a red house with a red-tiled roof, one of a streetful similarly afflicted, where she kept two maids and had a weekly reception day. She was childless, but she disdained to carry a pet dog as compensation for barrenness. Her husband was a meagre shrimp of a stockbroker under his wife’s control, who golfed on Sundays and played auction bridge at his club twice a week with cyclic regularity. He and his wife had little in common except the habit of living together, which had made them acquainted with each other’s ways.

Mrs. Pendleton had not seen either of her brothers for a long time. Robert had been too engrossed in digging into the past for the skeletons of his ancestors to do more than write intermittent letters to the living members of his family, acquainting them with the progress of his search. Austin Turold, Robert’s younger brother, had spent a portion of his life in India and had but recently returned. He had gone there more than twenty years before to fill a Government post, taking with him his young wife, but leaving his son at school in England for some years. His wife had languished and died beneath an Indian sun, but her husband had become acclimatized, and remained until his time was up and he was free to return to England with a pension. His sister and he met on the previous day for the first time since he had left England for India, and Mrs. Pendleton had some difficulty in identifying the elderly and testy Anglo-Indian with the handsome young brother who had bade her farewell so many years before. And, she had even more difficulty in recognizing the fair-haired little boy of that time in the good-looking but rather moody-faced young man who at the present moment was seated near the window, staring out of it.

The fifth member of the party was Dr. Ravenshaw, who practised in the churchtown where Mrs. Turold had been buried, and had attended her in her illness.

But he had not been asked to share in the family council on that account. His presence was due to his intimacy with Robert Turold, which had commenced soon after the latter’s arrival in Cornwall. The claimant for a title had found in the churchtown doctor an antiquarian after his own heart, whose wide knowledge of Cornish antiquities had assisted in the discovery of the last piece of evidence necessary to establish his claim.

Dr. Ravenshaw sat a little apart from the other, a thickset grey figure of a man, with eyes reddened as though by excessive reading, and usually protected by glasses, which just then he had removed in order to polish them with his handkerchief. In age he was sixty or more. His thick grey beard was mingled with white, and the heavy moustache which drooped over his mouth was quite white. He presented a common-place figure in his rough worn tweeds and heavy boots, but he was a man of intelligence in spite of his unassuming exterior. He lived alone, cared for by a single servant, and he covered on foot a scattered practice among the fishing population of that part of the coast. His knowledge of Cornish antiquities and heraldic lore had won him the confidence of Robert Turold, and his kindness to Mrs. Turold in her illness had gained him the gratitude of her daughter Sisily.

It was Austin Turold who caused a diversion in this group of lay figures by walking to the table and helping himself to a whisky-and-soda. Austin bore very little resemblance to his grim and dominant elder brother. He had a slight frail figure, very carefully dressed, and one of those thin-lipped faces which seem, to wear a perpetual sneer of superiority over commoner humanity. The movements of his white hands, the inflection of his voice, the double eyeglass which dangled from his vest by a ribbon of black silk, revealed the type of human being which considers itself something rarer and finer than its fellows. The thin face, narrow white forehead, and high-bridged nose might have belonged to an Oxford don or fashionable preacher, but, apart from these features, Austin Turold had nothing in common with such earnest souls. By temperament he was a dilettante and cynic, who affected not to take life seriously. His axiom of faith was that a good liver was the one thing in life worth having, and a far more potent factor in human affairs than conscience. He had at one time regarded his brother Robert as a fool and visionary, but had seen fit to change that opinion latterly.

He paused in the act of raising his glass to his lips, and looked over the silent company as though seeking a convivial companion. His son was still staring out of the window. The little stockbroker, seated on the sofa beside his large wife, made a deprecating movement of his eyebrows, as though entreating not to be asked. Austin’s cold glance roved to Dr. Ravenshaw.

“Doctor,” he said, “let me give you a whisky-and-soda.”

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